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Councils 'deficient' at identifying Traveller housing needs, human rights commission finds

The reviews show that between 2008 and 2018, of €168.8 million allocated to local authorities for Traveller-specific accommodation, just two thirds (€110.6 million) was drawn down.

Traveller site at Balgaddy, Clondalkin, Co Dublin
Traveller site at Balgaddy, Clondalkin, Co Dublin
Image: RollingNews.ie

COUNCILS IN IRELAND are “deficient” at gathering data on Travellers and identifying specific housing needs, a report from the Irish Human Rights & Equality Commission has found. 

The Commission initiated a series of reviews in 2019 and asked each local authority in Ireland to self-audit its provision of Traveller-specific accommodation.

Issues with cultural identification, overcrowding and a lack of transparency at council level were identified by the Commission as part of these reviews.

In most cases, the Commission also found that councils did not engage with local Traveller organisations as part of its audit.

“In many local authority areas Travellers had little participation or input in relation to the management of their sites,” the report also states.

The report comes after Children’s Ombudsman Dr Niall Muldoon last month called for local authorities to be held accountable over living conditions experienced by Travellers and for oversight of councils that underspend on Traveller accommodation. 

The reviews show that between 2008 and 2018, of €168.8 million allocated to local authorities for Traveller-specific accommodation, just two thirds (€110.6 million) was drawn down.

According to today’s report, underspend on Traveller accommodation is driven by how central Government funding is allocated and drawn down.

However, councils are also “inadequate and deficient” in identifying accommodation needs at a local level, it found. 

Traveller-specific budgets are designed to provide for renovation or refurbishment of existing Traveller accommodation. 

Councils, however, claimed that there are difficulties securing approval for projects due to disagreement in agreeing specifics and “protracted consultations” with local residents. 

An Oireachtas Committee last month heard that more than 2,800 Traveller families have a housing need but that local authorities failed to spend €72 million allocated in funding between 2008 and 2019. 

Chief Executive of the Housing Agency John O’Connor said there are more than 1,000 households on social housing lists with a need for Traveller-specific accommodation but that the actual need is likely higher because Traveller families aren’t specifically identified at a local authority level. 

In its report, the Commission found that delivery of accommodation is weakened due to poor information gathering by councils on the exact needs of Travellers in their area.

The report states that local authorities typically base current and future housing needs on social housing applications and estimated for the number of Travellers in their area. 

However, there is no means by which people can identify as a Traveller on social housing application forms which the Commission says “has implications for the identification of and inclusion of Travellers” within the housing system. 

A number of local authorities including Galway City and Dublin City Council failed to properly identify both the number of Travellers in their area and their specific housing needs, the Commission found. 

Galway City was found not to have a “a robust system” for identifying Traveller accommodation needs nor was there any independent verification of information gathered. 

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In a number of its reviews the Commission noted: “Some members of the Traveller community perceive a lack of Traveller-specific accommodation or are exasperated by overcrowding or poor hygiene conditions on halting sites.

“For this reason, [they] feel they have no choice but to apply for social housing.”

The Commission also found that 22 local authorities audited make no reference to the Caravan Loan Scheme, which was set up in 2000 and allows Travellers to purchase  caravans instead of living on halting sites. 

The Commission has made a series of recommendations to each local authority to address issued identified and asked that each council reports to it by 31 August. 

Speaking at an Oireachtas Committee on Mental Health yesterday, Ronnie Fay of Pavee Point said “it is really important” that the Commission’s recommendations are implemented by local authorities and monitored. 

“We know that local authorities don’t draw down all their funding,” said Fay. “We know there are complex reasons why this happens but we definitely know that the impact of poor living conditions, overcrowded conditions leads to poor mental health.”

Fay also criticised a lack of sanctions for councils if they don’t fulfil obligations under their Traveller Accommodation Plans. 

“We’d highlight the need for accurate data and identifying the blocks of why policy isn’t implemented,” said Fay. 

IHREC Chief Commissioner Sinéad Gibney said that the State’s provision of Traveller accommodation has drawn “widespread condemnation” from the UN and the EU.

The last twelve months alone have been marked by regular and disturbing reports and testimony on Traveller accommodation, and the Commission’s own legal casework has shown the appalling conditions in which many Traveller families are forced to live. 

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